Only a few months have passed since the end of the lengthy conflict with Hamas in Gaza, a war that saw over 4,000 rockets fired into Israel and the well-functioning Iron Dome air defense system working hand-in-hand with advanced incoming projectile alerts, which helped secure the safety of people in southern and central Israel.
The next war, however, which may break out at any time, may not involve such wide-ranging air defense protection – particularly if Hezbollah, armed with over 100,000 rockets and missiles, becomes involved. Officials from the Home Front Command have in recent days told The Jerusalem Post about detailed plans to counter future threats to Israel’s soft underbelly.
Lt.-Col. Gil Hoffman, head of the C4i and Alert Division in the Home Front Command, said advances in area-specific rocket warnings will continue moving rapidly.
“During Operation Protective Edge, we issued area alerts on television channels and radio stations, and created smaller geographical regions for more specific rocket alerts,” he noted.
But the future holds greater progress, Hoffman added. Within three years, air raid sirens will be part of an IP-based alert network. “By the start of 2016, air raid sirens will have IP addresses, and they will be activated by a network rather than radio waves,” he said.
“This will enable more area-specific alerts, such as neighborhoods in a town or city, rather than the entire location. The next step is to get the sirens to send back sensory data, like visuals from a camera, sounds from a microphone or a wind detector. We would only need one or two wind detectors [which can help project the path of an incoming projectile] in a city. We are even planning to install a sensor for dangerous substances in an area with hazardous material. This is part of our program,” Hoffman stated.
In addition, The iOref (iHomeFront) smartphone application is in its test phase, and will be launched in February 2015 following a public information campaign. “The application will provide mission- specific alerts from the Home Front Command, in accordance with the user’s location. It will also send out instructions on how to respond to any given emergency,” he explained.
“In the next phase, we hope to begin a dialogue with the public through application, enabling users to send us comments and questions. They can report shrapnel falling, or if a siren isn’t working,” Hoffman said.
Satellite television receivers and digital radio will be part of the same IP network, delivering customized alerts to those in a targeted area.
“We are working with the Communications Ministry to ensure that every phone which does not support emergency text messages will come with a sticker notifying customers of that,” Hoffman said.
“Our goal is to continue developing the systems we used in Operation Protective Edge.
The Home Front Command is also integrating its command and control systems with those of the emergency services – Israel Police, the Fire and Rescue Service, and Magen David Adom paramedics.
Soon, Hoffman said, they will all be linked together, and to the command centers of local councils.
When this super-network arises, it will form a nationwide emergency response system.
This in turn will be supported by a radio network that links the Home Front Command to police and firefighters, and by 2015, to MDA paramedics as well, according to Hoffman.
A joint mobile command center is already in existence, and was tested in October.
These systems will allow emergency responders to converge on the sites of rocket impact zones, where people might be trapped in the rubble of buildings struck by heavy Hezbollah rockets.
Col. Roei Be’eri, head of the Home Front Command’s Southern Command, said the Command’s future performance in the next war will be judged by how it trains now.
“You fight as you train. What surprised our rivals during Operation Protective Edge was the resilience and functionality of the home front. Eighty percent – if not more – of our successes in emergencies came from training during routine times. Training, qualification and scrutiny are the fundamental guidelines,” Be’eri told the Post. “In this context, we succeeded, because no local authority stopped working during the long conflict in the summer. In past conflicts, some authorities stopped working.”
“David Ben-Gurion said that when it comes to security, Israel should take the fight to enemy territory and make wars as short as possible. Today, we are seeing that neither of these are occurring. The home front has turned into a front, and wars are getting longer; this is tough,” Be’eri continued.
He cautioned against over-satisfaction with the Command’s performance, and particularly against projecting conclusions from Operation Protective Edge to the next war. It is clear that any war with Hezbollah in Lebanon will be utterly different from the Gaza conflict, not least because of Hezbollah’s enormous scope of projectiles, the size of their warheads and the lack of available air defenses, which proved pivotal in the conflict with Hamas.
“Ultimately, the message is that in wars, what is needed is iron discipline by civilians – not just Iron Dome. In the last conflict, when rockets infiltrated air defenses and people failed to adhere to instructions – not lying on the ground in open areas, or seeking shelter in structures where they could – injuries followed. We need aggressive, intensive information campaigns to maintain awareness.
“The situation in the North will no doubt be different, and the alert system might also come under unprecedented pressure,” Be’eri warned.
In the likely absence of air defenses in many regions, adhering to safety instructions and seeking cover will be critical to keeping safe, he added. Preparations for Israel’s next conflict – whenever it may break out – are also taking on a medical dimension.
Col. Dr. Eyal Foreman, commander of the Home Front Command’s Medical Division, told the Post last week about preparations underway for dealing with a situation in which the country comes under large-scale projectile attack.
“The home front can decide the outcome of a war,” he said. “A home front that is stable, protected and able to function is a fundamental goal. Our goal is maintain an emergency routine, and save lives. We work closely with MDA paramedics, which prepares its responders in accordance with intelligence assessments,” Foreman said.
The Medical Division can send reservists to assist paramedics in times of need, as occurred this summer – when 130 reservists were drafted to assist MDA operations in the Gaza border regions.
The Home Front Command has set up and trained four conscripted battalions, as well as dozens of reserve battalions, to participate in search-and-rescue efforts in the case of major damage caused by a rocket impact.
Foreman also described ongoing training programs for hospitals, designed to ensure they are ready for a variety of emergencies.
In surprise drills, often at night when hospitals have less staff, the Home Front Command sends dolls to hospitals with notes carrying information about the “patient’s” condition. The Home Front Command’s annual training schedule ensures that all hospitals are proficient in dealing with mass casualty incidents, conventional or not.
“We drilled a mass toxicology incident at Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus [in Petah Tikva] yesterday,” Foreman said.
“Dolls representing patients were rinsed with water and cleansed before being processed for treatment. Doctors have to recognize the substance in question.”
“They do this well. Every hospital in the country has drilled for a chemical incident in the past three years. They end up drilling all emergency scenarios, from conventional, to radiation, to chemical,” he added.
The Home Front Command can put hospital managers on alert regarding imminent rocket attacks in their area.
“We practice evacuating patients to rocket- proof zones in the hospitals, which occurred with premature babies and dialysis babies in southern hospitals during Operation Protective Edge,” Foreman said.
“We are working closely with the Health Ministry on contingency plans.”
Additionally, hospitals must prepare to receive large numbers of wounded soldiers who could be evacuated from the battlefield of a future war. The Home Front Command will help select which hospital will receive wounded soldiers, and when.
For now, there are no indications of any imminent war on the horizon. Nevertheless, the Home Front Command is working intensively on a daily basis, quietly and largely out of public view, to prepare its systems for the sudden outbreak of hostilities.